Condemning Nazis has traditionally been one of the easiest ideological positions to take. Yet as US President Donald Trump’s equivocating reaction to the events in Charlottesville brought to light, vast swathes of people — all the way up to the highest levels of government — find the issue to be more complicated. The same appears true with Canadian media.
A review of six major Canadian newspapers’ commentary on fascism and anti-fascism since the August 12 Charlottesville attack, up to September 21, found that 39 per cent of the articles that mentioned fascists vs anti-fascists had a primary focus on condemning anti-fascists who have stood up to protest the rise of the far right.
The six newspapers examined were the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Vancouver Sun, and Montreal Gazette. These papers were selected based on circulation, political leaning, and geographic location. The articles included in this review had to be columns, op-eds, or editorials, and needed to be original to that publication, not merely reprints of pieces published elsewhere.
I reviewed 44 articles and classified 17 as condemning anti-fascism. I made this classification if the author spent the bulk of the discussion on fascists vs anti-fascists condemning anti-fascists, even if there was a disclaimer that fascists are also bad.
For example, on August 23 the Toronto Sun published an article by acting comment editor Lorrie Goldstein entitled “The fascism of the ‘anti-fascists’ on display.” Goldstein called fascist protesters “human scum,” but then in the same sentence said anti-fascists were no better. Besides that half-hearted throwaway line, the rest of the column was a diatribe against anti-fascists. Three days later, Goldstein wrote another article primarily condemning anti-fascists, with a short aside mentioning that he opposes fascists as well. He compared the struggle between the two to al-Qaida’s conflict with ISIS.
Four of the other 17 articles condemning anti-fascism — by Goldstein, Newstalk 1010 host Jerry Agar, and Toronto Sun columnist Candice Malcolm — also directly equated anti-fascists with fascists.
Three of the 17 articles, two by commentator Rex Murphy in the Post and one by Globe columnist Margaret Wente, implied, or explicitly stated, that anti-fascists actually pose a greater threat at this moment than fascists.
In an August 25 column, Murphy wrote:
“We should all guard against neo-Nazism. But we should equally guard against a near twin, Black Bloc, which dips into every protest with fondness for fists and semi-riot. This latter element we have seen both more frequently and more numerously than — to end on a high note — the other bunch of losers who spent much of their protest hiding out in a parking garage. Which should we worry about more I wonder?”
In a September 1 column, Murphy claimed: “There is a kernel of real fascism and real hate in North America. And it is the antifa movement, and its organizers, who are that kernel.” He added, “There’s not a spit of difference between [antifa] and the neo-Nazis — except, and it’s a big except — they have supporters outside the coven.”
Wente, meanwhile, wrote in an August 28 column in The Globe that, “Personally, I’m more disturbed by the growing movement on the left that sees symbols of oppression in every public monument and racists under every bed,” as opposed to neo-Nazis and the KKK, who she claims are a “lunatic fringe who influence virtually no one.” Wente’s article was written partially in response to the incident in Charlottesville, where a neo-Nazi killed one protester and injured 19 more.
The number of articles focused on condemning anti-fascists varied by publication, but each newspaper published at least one. The National Post published seven, more than any other publication.
I classified 27 of the 44 articles reviewed as primarily condemning fascism. I made this judgement if the author spent the bulk of the discussion on fascists vs anti-fascists condemning fascists, even if they also claimed anti-fascists are a problem.
For example, on August 17 the National Post published an article by columnist and author Terry Glavin, entitled “Fascists must be put down — before matters turn to bloodshed and gunplay.” Within, Glavin claims antifa’s “mischief in Charlottesville last weekend was sufficient to allow President Trump to equivocate about bad behaviour on ‘all sides,’” and that antifa “enjoys a wholly symbiotic relationship with the white nationalist filth that has come to form the hardcore component of Trump’s activist base.” Yet the bulk of the article was dedicated to condemning fascists, so I classified it as such.
Most of the newspapers reviewed published at least one article condemning fascists, with The Globe and Mail publishing 13, by far the most.
Goldstein has been the most frequent anti-fascist basher, writing four articles in the designated time frame decrying protesters. National Post founder and columnist Conrad Black wrote three, while Murphy wrote two, both of his articles implying anti-fascists are now a greater threat than fascists.
This study was inspired by a similar project by Adam Johnson at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), a national US media-watch group. Johnson found that the six largest newspapers in the country actually published more commentary focused on condemning anti-fascists than fascists, by 28 to 27 articles.
Johnson wrote that when examining these numbers, it’s important to, “Bear in mind that one side kills more people than any other ideology in the country and openly promotes genocide, while the other supports aggressive tactics to prevent the promotion of genocide, and hasn’t killed anyone.”
In Canada, the far right was responsible for at least 30 murders and 120 violent incidents between 1980 and 2015, according to a 2016 study, “Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada.” Ryan Scrivens, one of the study’s co-authors and a Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow at Concordia University’s Project SOMEONE, told me there is no comparison to be made between the far right and anti-fascists.
“Antifa are much less of a threat to public safety than the radical right. The purpose of antifa is to show up to radical right-wing demonstrations, and to counter extreme-right messages — they are counter-demonstrators. Members of [the] radical right, on the other hand, are the initiators, actively trying to intimidate and scare non-white communities through their rallies and demonstrations.”
The comparison drawn by many of these columnists, then, is flawed on both ideological and factual grounds.
The fact that they’ve managed to be published so widely could be an example of the faulty notion that being fair and balanced always means “showing both sides” equally. But aspiring to that misguided ideal may actually be the best-case scenario here. If these findings are a result of genuine political convictions across the Canadian commentariat, and the editorial teams willing to publish them, there is a more serious problem at hand.